The political root of the insecurity in the North-East and other parts of the North became clearer following the blame game between former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Zanna.
On Thursday, October 18, 2012, shocking news filtered that the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State had besieged the Maiduguri residence of a ‘serving Senator’ and arrested one Shuaibu Bama, an alleged top member of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram sect, who had been on the wanted list of security operatives.
The JTF did not mention the name of the senator when it issued the statement, but pundits quickly noted that the only senate member that has a house on Damboa Road is Senator Ahmed Zanna Khalifa (Borno Central).
“At about 11 am on Thursday, October 18, 2012, a high profile Boko Haram commander, one Shuaibu Muhammed Bama, who has been on the list of wanted terrorists operating between Bama and Maiduguri, was arrested by the task force troops in a serving Senator’s house along Damboa Road, GRA, Maiduguri. He is in the custody of the JTF and assisting in the investigation and has since made startling revelations,” the statement, which was signed by its spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, said.
And sensing the veracity of the allegation, Senator Zanna granted an interview to the Hausa service of the BBC on Friday, October 19, 2012, where he stated that Bama was actually his nephew, but that he was not arrested in his house.
The senator alleged that Bama was arrested at the house of “an ex-governor” along Rabi Road, GRA, Maiduguri. The allegation put a question mark on the head of his political opponent, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. Zanna alleged that the JTF was just acting a script to discredit him, an allegation which the JTF denied.
Senator Zanna defeated Sheriff in the Borno Central senatorial election in 2011. Zanna is from Bama Local Government Area while former Governor Sheriff is from Ngala Local Government Area. Wittingly or unwittingly, there has been an intense rivalry between the people of Bama and those from Sheriff’s native town. The rivalry was aggravated in 2010 when Governor Sheriff divided the Century old Dikwa Emirate into two and to give birth to Dikwa and Bama Emirates. The old Dikwa Emirate comprised of four local government areas: Bama, Ngala (Sheriff’s town), Dikwa and Kala-Balge, while the palace was in Bama town.
The creation of the two emirates followed the passage of a bill sent by the then Governor Sheriff to the State House of Assembly, in which the new Dikwa Emirate got three local government areas: Ngala, Dikwa and Kala-Balge, while Bama Emirate had as its territory only one local government area - Bama. Under the new arrangement, the new Dikwa Emirate has its palace in Dikwa town, while the present palace in Bama town has remained the palace for the new Bama Emirate. The creation of the Dikwa Emirate had surreptitiously whittled down the previously enormous influence of the Bama Emirate and this did not go down well with the people of Bama, especially politicians who developed a negative perception of the former Governor Sheriff.
During the 2011 elections, the people of Bama vehemently rejected Sheriff and his party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). In the senatorial election, they endorsed their son, Senator Zanna. Though a successful businessman and member of the boards of many federal establishments, he was generally seen as a novice in politics. There were even insinuations that Sheriff had a hand through the back door in the emergence of Zanna in order to chase away more formidable candidates in the likes of Senator Abba Aji. But Zanna’s allies debunked the claims, insisting that their candidate was going to give Sheriff a big fight – which he did, going by the results of the elections. The Congress for Progress Change (CPC) fielded Mohammed El-Nur Dongel as its candidate for Borno Central. A university don, Dongel that relied on Buhari factor. Despite his newness in politics, Zanna defeated all the candidates, including Sheriff, a feat that added a new perspective to the bloody political equation in Borno State.
In the gubernatorial election, the ANPP won in 23 out of the 27 Local Government Areas of the state. The PDP won in four LGAs, including Bama. This was in the furtherance of Bama’s revolt against Sheriff. The ANPP got a total of 531,147 votes, while the PDP got 450,140 votes. The ANPP was, therefore, ahead of PDP with 81,007 votes. Even before the said election, Borno was embroiled in crisis occasioned by internecine Boko Haram debacle which many people said was embellished with political, religious and criminal tendencies. The political angle of the Boko Haram had played out during the election. This was due to the fact that the PDP had campaigned that it was in the race for various offices in order to end the Boko Haram insurgency, which it alleged was the creation of the ANPP. To a greater extent, the ongoing allegations and counter-allegations between Zanna and Sheriff is seen as continuation of the political rivalry between the two.
From his utterances, Zanna was angry with security agents, whom he saw as cohorts in his travails. “The JTF said they arrested the man at a house belonging to someone in the Senate. I am a member of the Senate and I am the only one living on the Damboa Road. So, the JTF didn’t arrest the man (Boko Haram commander) in my house.
“They went to my house and carried out their investigations, but they did not come up with anything. Since they did not get anything, they arrested some boys in the house and asked them out. They forced them to sit under the sun. The soldiers started start beating them. They asked them if they knew someone called Shuaibu Bama. The boys told JTF that ‘yes, they knew him.’ One of the boys then led (the) JTF to where that Shuaibu was.
“What I’m saying is that, for them to say they arrested the man in my house is a lie. And we are not going to hide anybody whom we known is a Boko Haram member. They should investigate who the owner of the house where JTF arrested the ‘Boko Haram commander’ and the owner’s connection with the supposed Boko Haram member,” Senator Zanna said. Later, Zanna declared that that house belonged to Sheriff.
But Sheriff, who is now the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANPP, did not take Zanna’s declaration that Bama was arrested in his (Sheriffs) house lightly and therefore fired back with a lot of invective, insisting that Zanna is a “drowning man” and that he (Zanna) had been a Boko Haram sponsor for a very long time.
Reacting to the allegation that Bama was arrested in his house, Sheriff said Zanna was economical with the truth and alleged that he (Zanna) had perpetrated many “terrorism” activities, including harbouring terrorists and also indulging in illegal arm deals.
The statement, which was signed by Comrade Umar Duhu, the Special Assistant to the ANPP B.O.T. Chairman, which was made available to newsmen in Maiduguri, reads in part, “It is also on record that State Security Service has invited Senator Zanna to clarify his involvement with the suspect and his links with Boko Haram. Senator Zanna in a comic u-turn, shortly after these developments, told journalists in a face-saving interview that while he could not deny his relationship with his nephew, he disowned his house where the JTF arrested the suspect, stressing that the house belongs to Senator Ali Modu sheriff the immediate former governor of the state.
“Given his recent political encounter with the immediate past governor, now the BOT chairman of ANPP, he appears desperate to settle scores by dragging Ali Sheriff into the controversy. It is laughable that instead of defending his obvious involvement with Boko Haram, given his past antecedence where people finger him as illegal importer of arms via his Hajj-by-road fame, Senator Zanna is desperately looking for somebody to hang for his sins.
“It is common knowledge in Borno State that Senator Zanna takes along some hapless Nigerians on a seeming religious voyage by road only to put some of them into terrorist activity and illegal arms importation. Some of the so-called pilgrims by road have been traced to terrorists’ camps in Afghanistan and Syria, and not Saudi Arabia, their preferred destination. It is very much on record that 27 of such pilgrims are still missing up till date.
“Contrary to his claims in the media that he had parted ways with the suspect, we can authoritatively confirm that his nephew, Shuaibu, was still his associate up to the time of his arrest. It is an act in futility for him to try to name Ali Sheriff as an accomplice in his nefarious activity with Boko Haram, knowing that the wild allegations being levelled by him will never amount to an acquittal of his guilt.
“The one million dollar question is why has Senator Zanna never spoken against the atrocities being committed by Boko Haram, rather he has been calling for the declaration of state of emergency or the disbandment of the JTF which he knew are antithetical to the quest for peace. Again being the second senator fingered, as having links with Boko Haram, it is a confirmation of the wildly believed theory that the PDP in Borno State is the engine room behind Boko Haram...
Observers say the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State and by extension, in all the affected states in the north, cannot be addressed by force, rather, the root cause of the problem, which are social exclusivity, poverty and deprivation among others.
“Whether we like it or not, the Boko Haram is the creation of politicians,” Barrister Danlami Ishaq, a legal expert said. “Both Senator Zanna and Sheriff, including all politicians that are now occupying offices have used the notorious services of restive youth to win election in 2011. In Borno in particular, politicians vowed that they would end the insecurity in the state as soon as they win elections, but up till now, we have not seen any respite. Rather, the two dominant parties - ANPP and PDP - have continued to trade blames on the troubles afflicting Borno,” the legal expert said.
Sunday Trust recalled that few months after the 2011 elections, bombings and killings continued unabated in Maiduguri and many parts of Borno State. Most of the attacks were attributed to the dreaded Boko Haram, the group which some politicians said is the creation of some politicians. The victims include politicians, clerics, and security agents among others. At the height of the crisis, the PDP in Borno State said the root of the problem was the ANPP.
Alhaji Baba Basharu, the state chairman of the PDP, said in an interview in November, 2011 with our sister publication, the Daily Trust in Abuja that the Boko Haram came to prominence in Borno State when it helped to bring Governor Ali Modu Sheriff to power in 2003 and that the current troubles began when it fell out with him. According to the PDP leader, the late Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was the very man who led a “Taliban” uprising in Yobe State early this decade and fled into exile after a violent clash with policemen. He said it was Sheriff’s deputy, Adamu Dibal and his Secretary to the State Government [SSG], Baba Ahmed Jidda, who negotiated for Yusuf’s return from Saudi Arabia.
Basharu alleged that when Sheriff was working to snatch Borno State from then Governor Mala Kachalla in 2003, he warmed himself into the hearts of the Yusufiyya Movement, with a promise to implement Shari’a rule in Borno State. After becoming governor, he said, Sheriff created a Ministry of Religious Affairs and appointed Alhaji Buji Foi, who was Yusufiyya’s national secretary, as its first commissioner.
The PDP chairman added that the amity between the two camps lasted for a while, until they fell out when Sheriff did not fulfill his promise to implement Shari’a rule. At that point, he said, Mohammed Yusuf ordered Fugu to resign from Sheriff’s cabinet and most other staff of the Religious Affairs Ministry brought by Fugu left as well. He said subsequently, the Yusufiyya began working to achieve Shari’a rule, through preaching. At one point, he said, there was a major clash between them and the police at Maidokiri, near the GRA in Maiduguri, and some of their members were killed.
Basharu added that when the Yusufiyya members mounted a procession to the cemetery to bury their dead members, another clash took place with the police. The police accused some of them of riding their motorbikes without crash helmets and in the ensuing clash, 19 people died, Basharu said.
According to him, Mohamed Yusuf then went to many security agencies’ offices demanding for justice for the two episodes, after which his supporters attacked prisons and police stations. This led to events of July 2009 in which Yusuf and other sect leaders were captured and killed, and the sect members dispersed, only to regroup again.
But in a rejoinder that was also published in the Daily Trust, one Bukar Alhaji Kaza, an ANPP stakeholder in Borno State, debunked Baba Basharu’s allegations, insisting that it was the PDP that created the Boko Haram. He said even prior to the 2003 elections, which brought in Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as governor, the name Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the Boko Haram sect group, was never even mentioned or heard by the Borno people, let alone being mentioned as instrumental to the emergence of the government at that time.
He said the people of Borno State, in their thousands, came out massively to vote the ANPP and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff at that time, following the suspension of the then Governor Mala Kachallah from the ANPP by its National caucus.
Kaza said Mala Kachalla later moved to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest the gubernatorial election but lost.
According to Kaza, “To further proof that Baba Basharu lied in the said publication, he mentioned that a certain pact was entered into with the Yusufiyya Movement with a promise to implement Shar’iah rule. One is sad that the PDP and its leadership in Borno State, in its desperate bid to repair its already battered image following its linkage with the Boko Haram sect that has wreaked havoc of mammoth proportions to both lives and property of innocent Nigerians, could blindly choose to go to press without verifying the facts on ground. ...For the avoidance of doubt, the late Governor Mala Kachalla started the implementation of the Shar’iah legal system in Borno State even before his successor, following the recommendation of the Shar’iah Implementation Committee, led by Professor Abubakar Mustapha, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri. The Shar’iah legal system was in place in Borno State before the coming of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, so there won’t have been any reason to enter into any pact with any group on the implementation of Shar’iah. This is an established fact and the people of Borno State can testify to this,” Kaza said.
To prove its innocence, there was a time the ANPP rolled out a list of some of its members that were assassinated in the ensuing imbroglio. The list was released when the PDP stakeholder advocated for the declaration of State of Emergency in Borno State. Some 16 of the ANPP members killed, all of them in 2011 include:
The ANPP therefore said it was inconceivable to link the party, and by extension former governor Sheriff with the Boko Haram crisis.
“Having lost close family relations and political associates, it is, however, utterly preposterous to allege at this critical time that the erstwhile Governor of Borno State, Senator Dr Ali Modu Sheriff, was the mastermind of the dastardly act perpetrated by members of Jama’atul ahlul Sunna Wal-Liddawati wal Jihad. In the actual sense of it, he was the most affected and afflicted victim of the crisis,” the party said.
But Baba Basharu had during his interview insisted that the PDP has nothing to do with the Boko Haram. He also denied that the serial killing of ANPP leaders in the state indicated a PDP connection.
“Boko Haram’s grudge was against Ali Sheriff. They were against Sheriff, his government, his party and his people, including the Bulamas, as well as warders and policemen who, they said, killed their leaders.”
In spite of the arguments and counter-arguments, in its report on the insecurity in the North-East, the Ambassador Usman Galtimari panel pointed accusing fingers as politicians in Borno State as the masterminds of the unending violence. In Chapter Two of the report, it “traced the origin of private militias in Borno State in particular, of which Boko Haram is an offshoot, to politicians who set them up in the run-up to the 2003 general elections. The militias were allegedly armed and used extensively as political thugs. After the elections and having achieved their primary purpose, the politicians left the militias to their fate since they could not continue funding and keeping them employed. With no visible means of sustenance, some of the militias gravitated towards religious extremism, the type offered by Mohammed Yusuf.”
If the crisis is political, what should be the solution? A professor with the University of Maiduguri, who wouldn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, has this to say: “Honestly, I believed we need to be more sincere in addressing the issue. Security agents have defaulted. There is need for a new approach to deal with the issue. So many innocent people have been killed; so many houses have been burnt down. The general harshness being meted out to the civilians is bringing out anger and frustration from the people. They feel that the security agents who are expected to protect them are killing them. I think the JTF needs to re-strategies. It needs to know that they are to protect the people, not to kill them or burn down their houses. Government needs to identify opinion leaders and get them to intervene in the crisis. It should not be seen as Maiduguri affair, people from other parts of the country should make inputs, to find lasting solution to the crisis.”